Bomanchery fields was once the property of the royalty that had been donated to the people of Nellur years ago by the then ruling king Chandoth Thampuran, Kannan’s great great grandfather. It soon became the playground for the children as well as an area to hold various festivities of the nearby Bhagavathy temple.
Kannan and his gang of friends gathered in these fields everyday to play kabadi after school. It became their unofficial territory and no one was allowed in without Kannan’s approval.
Kannan was just rushing out of his class towards the fields with his books when he saw Chinnan coming towards him. “Amma has asked you to come home today for tea. She said she’ll be making your favourite snack, banana fry.”
Kannan could feel his mouth water just by hearing the name of the sweet delicacy. But he knew he had to get to Bomanchery first.
“Tell Lakshmi elemma, I’ll come in ten minutes. I have to go to the fields for an urgent meeting. I’ll tell you all about it later,” said Kannan before running off.
Chinnan wondered what could be so important for Kannan to put away eating his favourite snack for a later time. Kannan would certainly not keep a secret from him but the curiosity was getting the better of him. He ran home, which was just around the corner, to tell his mother he would be late and ran back to the Bomanchery fields to eavesdrop and find out what the meeting was about. He knew no one would be able to catch him doing it, he had already done it so many times for he had the art of getting into places in stealth. It was actually more of an adaptation than an art. Even as a small child he was constantly reprimanded by his grandmother Janakiamma, for visiting Kannan, being the son of a lower caste man.
“Don’t come in front of me you bad omen,” she had say to him. So every time he came to visit Kannan he would stealthily get into the house without catching Janakiamma’s attention. He was so good at it that Kannan who would be immersed in his books or thoughts would be thrown off his feet when Chinnan would suddenly appear in front of him without making the slightest of sounds, as if he had appeared from nowhere.
Now as he slowly hid behind the bushes, he could hear Kannan’s voice murmuring something to his group. Oh! It seems to be something important or why else would he talk so cautiously, thought Chinnan and looked around for another hiding place that would help him hear Kannan better. He saw a small mango tree a few feet away from Kannan with lots of bushes around it offering ample camouflage. He crawled behind the bushes till he reached the mango tree and got up and stood behind it. Now he could hear Kannan properly.
Kannan was presenting the plan step by step to his mates, assigning roles each of them would play to make it a success. The plan humoured everyone so much that for a while the meeting was filled with non-stop laughter; Chinnan too had to cover his mouth in order to not laugh out loudly and get caught. Everyone cheered Kannan for coming up with such a marvellous plan.
I need to be present when this happens, it would be real fun, thought Chinnan.
So it was decided for the plan to be executed on the following Sunday at 7.00 pm at Bomanchery fields.
The meeting was dispersed soon after and Kannan now with the sole thought of Lakshmi elemma’s snacks on his mind ran to her house in a jiffy. When he reached the house he saw a panting Chinnan sitting on the steps of the house and drinking water.
“Is your meeting over?” asked Chinnan without looking up at Kannan.
“Yes, what have you been doing? You seem so out of breath” asked Kannan suspiciously.
“Oh nothing, just chasing the hens along with Mintu” replied Chinnan with a sly smile.
Mintu was Chinnan’s pet dog; Kannan and Chinnan had found him as a deserted pup near the river. Kannan wanted to keep the pup for himself but afraid of Janakiamma’s dislike for any kind of pets in the house, reluctantly let Chinnan have him. In this way Kannan could also play with him whenever he wished.
Presently, Mintu was nowhere to be seen that meant Chinnan was lying. Just then he noticed that Chinnan’s trousers were covered with the seeds of the special type of grass that was found only in Bomanchery fields. So he’s been eavesdropping again, I know how to trap him, thought Kannan.
“You know Chinna,” said Kannan continuing, “today we were discussing about including you in the group, but they vetoed my decision to let you in.”
Chinnan, who had been persuading Kannan for a while about his inclusion in the group, cried out almost involuntarily,
“No, you didn’t, you liar you were just discussing about Pisharadi mas……,”and suddenly realising his folly stopped abruptly, biting his tongue for having blurted out everything.
There was a moment of silence, which was followed by an outburst of laughter from the cousins.
“Ah! I have caught you red handed” said Kannan triumphantly.
“Someday” he added, “your sneaking habit will get you in trouble. Since you already know what has been planned you can join us on Sunday but you must not breathe a word about it to anyone.”
Chinnan nodded and both of them fell into a pensive mood but the smell of the hot banana fry was so tempting that they forgot everything else and rushed into the kitchen, where Lakshmi was busy frying more bananas covered in the white flour mixture.
“Now, now don’t burn your tongue children, eat slowly, no one is going to steal them from you” she said giggling at their gluttony.
“Oh! They are so tasty Lakshmi elemma” said Kannan licking his fingers.
“Why don’t you take some home and give some to Saraswathi chechi too?” asked Lakshmi.
“Oh no, she’s fasting today” replied Kannan.
Besides he knew his grandmother would burst into fury if he brought anything from the chandala’s house, as she commonly referred to her younger daughter’s home.
“Chinnan’s father will be home now, he has been wanting to meet you for a while” said Lakshmi.
“Oh no, I can’t stay; I have to clean my room before appoopan is back. It’s a mess,” said Kannan filled with hesitation all of a sudden.
“Well I must run off now aunt and thanks a lot” said Kannan taking his books and rushing off.
“China, I’ll come tomorrow. Please give a banana fry to Mintu from me.” said Kannan as he jumped off the fence.
Chinnan wondered why Kannan was always in a sudden hurry whenever his father’s name came up. He would have continued to pry upon the matter hadn’t the smell from the kitchen not enticed him out of it. He ran back to the kitchen not thinking any more about the matter.
Kannan gathered up all his energy and ran towards the boat. He didn’t want to miss it and be left on the bank to meet his uncle Chelan. He could already see Chelan waving at him from the distance. Chelan was returning from the town where he owned a small vegetable market.
Chelan was the only person Kannan feared the most in the world. Chelan of course was a harmless individual, his only crime being having eloped with a girl from a higher caste.
The grounds for Kannan’s fear were however based on an incident that happened years ago when he was a small child.
Chelan belonged to a very low caste and until recently lived across the bank making his living out of fishing. He was dark, handsome with eyes that shone like crystals. Lakshmi, who went across the river to study stitching, found herself involuntarily attracted to him. It began with a mere exchange of looks and soon grew into a strong love affair. She met him by making constant excuses of meeting a friend or having to buy something from across the river. One such day when she had failed to return even after it was dark, Shankaran Nair and his friends went in search of her. It was with much difficulty Saraswathi calmed a wailing Janakiamma. Shankaran Nair too returned with no news. The next morning Lakshmi turned up in front of Ullas villa as a newly wed bride with her husband Chelan to seek her parent’s blessings. Janakiamma who had not slept the whole night and had been crying till that point, suddenly became quiet. She slowly got up, wiped her tears, went towards the door outside which, a nervous Lakshmi stood anxiously.
Looking at her daughter she said, “You are not my daughter, she is dead. Her last rites shall be performed today.”
And turning towards Chelan she screamed, “And you chandala have murdered her.”
From that day onwards the doors of Ullas villa had been shut towards Lakshmi. And as her mother proclaimed, Lakshmi’s last rites were indeed performed ousting her physically and mentally from Ullas villa. It was with immense lobbying that Janakiamma had allowed Chinnan to set foot in her house but on the condition that he was not to come in her direct sight.
The entire scene was being watched by a three year old Kannan who as curious as always went running to Janu to ask her what chandala meant. The reply was a frightening one that he never forgot.
“It means dog eater. They eat dogs and sometimes small kids too.”
Henceforth, Kannan was so scared that he made sure he never came across his uncle and when he did he always imagined his cajoling as a way to lure him into a trap eventually to eat him. He was also very scared for his dog Mintu and prayed that his uncle Chelan would never eat him. In fact Kannan believed that it was his prayers that were keeping Mintu alive while in the case of Chinnan, he reasoned that no chandala would eat his own son.
Now as Chelan called out to Kannan asking him to wait, he ran off pretending not to hear. He jumped into the boat in such a panic that he almost fell off.
“Careful my boy” said Ayappan. But Kannan was so relieved that he did not care for anything that would have happened. I rather drown than be eaten by him, thought Kannan giving out a deep sigh of relief.